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5 Ugly Truths About Abraham Lincoln Exposed in Netflix’s Amend: The Fight for America

5 Ugly Truths About Abraham Lincoln Exposed in Netflix’s Amend: The Fight for America

6 Harsh Truths About Abraham Lincoln Exposed in Netflix's Amend: The Fight for America by WIll Smith

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Abraham Lincoln has long been celebrated in American cinema with films like Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. But the new Will Smith docuseries Amend: The Fight for America exposes some ugly truths about Lincoln and his attitudes towards Black Americans.

The six-part series, airing on Netflix and hosted by Will Smith, who executive produces with Larry Wilmore, explores the history of the United States through a critical lens. Delving into the history of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which promises liberty and equal protection for all U.S. citizens, Amend asks the ultimate question: What does it really mean to be an American?

Episode 1, Citizen, sets the record straight about Lincoln, who is widely regarded as an American hero for signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, in order to end slavery in the United States. (It would be two more years until slavery ended in Texas, as the Juneteenth holiday recognizes). Lincoln’s signature on that document has earned him a positive legacy in the history books — but some of them leave out statements that show his legacy is more complicated than we usually acknowledge. Here are five ugly truths that Amend highlights.

5 Ugly Truths About Abraham Lincoln Exposed in Netflix's Amend: The Fight for America

From Episode 1 of Netflix’s Amend: The Fight for America, hosted by Will Smith and executive produced by Smith and Larry Wilmore.

1. Lincoln cared more about preserving the Union than freeing slaves

Lincoln’s main goal during his presidency, which saw the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, was to preserve the Union — not to free slaves.

Christopher Bonner, a historian at the University of Maryland, said in Amend: “Lincoln understands that slavery is bad, which is a good start. But he says that if I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do so.”

“He has got to get the South back, and at this point, he’ll do whatever it takes to win, even if it’s at the expense of Black Americans,” Smith said of Lincoln’s thinking at the time.

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2. He didn’t always view people of color as equals

In 1861, Lincoln invited a group of African-American leaders to the White House, according to Columbia University historian Eric Foner. But instead of having a discussion about improving racial equality in America, he further underscored their inequality.

In Amend, Pedro Pascal reads the address Lincoln gave that day.

“Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people,” he said. “But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race.”

Will Smith says it all in his reaction: “I do not like where this is going.”

And it gets worse.

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3. Lincoln blamed the Civil War on Black Americans

In his aforementioned address, Lincoln continued: “Consider what we know to be the truth, but for your race among us, there could not be war.”

So what Lincoln is essentially saying there is that the reason the Civil War happened is that there are Black people in America, not because of, you know, slavery.

4. Lincoln wanted to relocate freed Black Americans to a colony in Central America

“There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh at it may be, for you, free colored people, to remain with us,” Lincoln added. “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. The place I am thinking about having for a colony is Central America.”

Yes, Lincoln wanted to remove Black people from the U.S. altogether.

“Part of what Lincoln is doing here is trying to get at that gnawing uncertainty in Black people that maybe we can’t actually belong in this country,” Bonner notes. “He’s saying, we all understand that equality is what this country’s supposed to be about, but really, racial equality is not gonna happen, so get with the program.”

6 Ugly Truths About Abraham Lincoln Exposed in Netflix's Amend: The Fight for America

Frederick Douglas pictured in Episode 1 of Netflix’s Amend: The Fight for America, hosted by Will Smith

Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist who traveled the country speaking about his own experiences as a freed slave, was furious at Lincoln, according to Bonner. His solution? To convince Lincoln that he needed Black Americans to win the war, thus encouraging white Americans to view Black Americans as their equals.

Douglass argued that Lincoln couldn’t win the war without abolishing slavery and that Black men were essential to the war effort, saying that men “who would be freed themselves must strike the blow.” His logic was that if Black men shed their blood to fight for their country, then they must be considered citizens.

“Douglass is convinced they will prove they are citizens, that they’re deserving of rights, and that they’re deserving of legal equality,” Bonner adds.

5. The real reason Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was to win the war

Douglass’s plan worked.

Although at the time Lincoln couldn’t “conceive of the United States as a biracial society,” as Foner points out, “his views will begin to move forward very dramatically.”

Here’s the kicker.

“Desperate for soldiers, Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation,” Will Smtih notes in Amend.

Foner adds: “The Emancipation Proclamation is issued as a military order. It’s to help win the war.”

Amend: The Fight for America is now streaming on Netflix. Main image: Abraham Lincoln as pictured in Episode 1 of Netflix’s Amend: The Fight for America.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Milt says:

    Clearly slavery is wrong and blacks are equal to whites but it’s all too easy to Monday morning quarterback something like this and demonize without serious consideration of the context of the time. Resistance to the idea of free and equal black people after generations of conditioning to the contrary is to be expected. Change takes time and grace is required.

  2. James says:

    This is wrong. Please read history. Its a jaded view

  3. Marie Haroldsen says:

    #4 is awful. #1 and #5 are disappointing. But 2 and 3 could be interpreted differently.

    “Consider what we know to be the truth, but for your race among us, there could not be war.”

    You think he really meant if Blacks hadn’t gone and gotten themselves enslaved there’d be no civil war? Really? I think he’s saying is selfish wrong-headed dumbass whites hadn’t made slavery a thing and short sighted early colonists and founding fathers hadn’t permitted it there would be slaves in the south. In which case the south wouldn’t have had an untenable economy, and then there most likely would not have been a war. That was the heart of why those states wanted to go their own way. They didn’t trust their wealth and prosperity could survive paying the people who did their work or that a portion of the economy was based off treating as a commodity.

    #3

    “But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race.”

    Doesn’t mean not deserving equality or truly equal. I read it to mean that freedom didn’t mean Blacks would be treated equally. A century and a half later and Blacks are stiil not treated equally.

    I think Lincoln lived in his time. I’m disappointed that he wasn’t fully understanding racial equality the way we do today. But I doubt he was so far at the full on racist iend that the movie’s interpretation of 2 and 3 is totally accurate.

    Oh and thank the gods for F. Douglas. What a hero!

  4. Millard M. Surrency says:

    There were many compromises made with the South by Lincoln at the expense of and broken promises to the slaves in order to save the Union.
    The Slaves were freed without given anything to move forward with their lives after emancipation. I am glad these untold truths are finally brought to awareness. America is a great country with an ulgy birthmark!

  5. Richard Larin says:

    I think it is fair to tell the truth about Lincoln’s thoughts and actions at the time , but they must be put in context as to his time. What problems and opposition did he face? What were the thoughts and solutions proposed by others with which he had to compromise. Also remember Washington, D.C. was only about 30 or 40 miles from Richmond at a time of Ciivil War.

    President Obama did not initially believe in equal rights for LGBQ. Then the whole society had an incredibly dramatic shift in its attitude. Should we saddle Obama with his unfair position because it displayed much of the people’s beliefs along with him at the time.

    If you just tell the truth about Lincoln without fairly putting it in context at the same time this is just giving the right wing an absolute winner..Lincoln is generally considered the greatest American of all time.

  6. Alexander says:

    History needs to be viewed in context. Of course the enlightenment we wish to see in today’s terms did not exist in Lincoln’s time. He could have easily taken other courses of action but chose the best means available at that time. Just because fault can always be found does not mean we should dig up the past looking for it.

  7. Jilly says:

    We do not know what went in his mind at the time. Let’s not turn the history of this man in to something they did not do. Times were different then how can we believe we understand. How can we judge them.

  8. Poorshia Foresighting says:

    History is complicated and this show is going to provide the kind of tidbits and soundbites that, in isolation, will buoy pro-confederate/revisionist history. Anyone with a solid grasp of US history already knows that Lincoln’s legacy is complicated – it’s obvious to anyone who has tried to learn about it – this unfortunately is going to play into the hands of people who haven’t actually tried to learn about it…

  9. Richard says:

    Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Speech on the cause of the war: “Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” This why we revere Lincoln. This acceptance of God’s judgment on the US shocks us still in crediting the suffering of the enslaved as the measure of suffering due to be paid by whites for their sins.

  10. Bob Bobb says:

    People of this era want to judge people of the past, WHICH YOU CANNOT DO. It was a Different time, the Whole society thought differently than today, There is NO Angel is history that stands out to be the knight people today are looking for. These articles are just finger pointing and trying to tear down and rewrite history. Same for Churchill, Roosevelt, Washington and other figures. The Media is pushing liberal stories for their own benefit and to guide todays society into THEIR Leanings. They are trying to Influence the young people with false perceptions using Todays reasonings. YOU CANNOT DO THAT. You have to Judge the actions of history based on the Societal ways of that Era, not of Todays.

  11. Joel Caracci says:

    Missing from all of these points is the phrase: “and then his viewpoint evolved”.

    Lincoln’s viewpoints at the beginning of the war are well-known and well-communicated, but what makes him an excellent leader is the changing of his thinking to true moral leadership. And even if you’re going to dismiss the emancipation proclamation as a ploy to get black soldiers, then how can you use that argument against his fight to pass the 13th amendment?

  12. suzanne says:

    This article is absolutely correct…thank you for truth

  13. Renard says:

    Cherry picking Lincoln quotes doesn’t give the context of what Lincoln was conveying. In simple terms Lincoln was: 1)Trying to keep the union intact. 2) He kept the door open for secessionists to return to the fold. 3) Once the states were settled into either side the Emancipation Proclamation served as a military tool to undermine the rebellion but also to begin the end of slavery. 4) The cause of the division and compromise was slavery. To allow it to exist was just an invitation to let the flames of war to rekindle in the future.

  14. Van says:

    To all the commenters who give Lincoln a “pass”…you must give Confederates the same “pass”

  15. scott foresman says:

    “The doctrine [of the Gettysburg Address] is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination.… It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”
    -H. L. Mencken, The Smart Set, May 1920

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